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I was already 22 years old back when the Beatles’ tune in the title of this post was released on Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.  I remember being charmed by the whole album, but I couldn’t make the big leap into the future and imagine myself with grey hair, actually turning 64.

It was one of the best album covers to come along in an era of great ones.   My friends and I pored over it like a jigsaw puzzle, trying to figure out who each person was and why he or she had been picked for the cover.  We had no idea the artwork on it would become a classic. If you’ve never seen the short section of “Yellow Submarine ” where the song appears, check it out at  — http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mJ8kMbMpQbo.

If it were not for the Beatles, I doubt if this particular milestone would have had much resonance.  One birthday is pretty much like another once your odometer hits fifty.  But our presence in Torino and a visit from an old friend (and her friend), made it very special.

January 30 was the last day of class for a month-long session of Italian that I had joined a week late.  After the last test, a group of about twenty students and teachers from Italiano Porticando sat down together for a late lunch at a local restaurant in the neighborhood.  We ate good pizza and pasta, exchanged email addresses, took photos, and promised to keep in touch.

But one last passegiata was still on the agenda, and it attracted more students than all the other outings I had joined previously.  It was a visit to an artisanal cioccolateria, an award-winning chocolate maker–bottega Guido Gobino.

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Our tasting room was long and narrow, ultra modern-looking under some ancient wooden beams.  For the next two hours, it would be our new classroom and the subject would be chocolate.  Our host was gracious, passionate and fun.  Torino is the birthplace of gianduja chocolate, (a mixture of hazelnut paste, cocoa and sugar), bicerin (a drink of chocolate, espresso and cream), and chocolate-covered ice cream on a stick.

Although he was open to any and all questions, including the inevitable one about Ferrero Rocher and the phenomenal success of Nutella, his main mission was to educate our taste buds, to encourage us to discover what tastes were elicited by the carefully prepared blends of cocoa from around the world.

It soon became obvious that a more concentrated blend of cocoa did not necessarily translate into a stronger taste.  He compared the production of chocolate to that of wine, conjuring up the terroir of Java as if it were something you could taste.  He asked us to listen to the snap of the chocolate and lick our fingers like bambini.  There were chocalates that tasted like smoke, some like herbs.  The final confection literally melted in the mouth, leaving a delicious, lingering aftertaste of a key ingredient– salt.

We were all buzzing as we stumbled out of the chocolate boutique.  The sugar rush had kicked in and we had been sitting far too long.  I parted from my classmates one last time.  We said our goodbyes and floated home.  The next day was my birthday. We had booked a tavolo for four at noon at a renowned restaurant located on the grounds of the Castello di Rivoli.  It is called Combal.Zero.

Stay tuned for Part Two.  In which yours truly gets stuffed.  In an elegant way, of course, in the Brioni suit!

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